September 2014 Evangelization Exchange – Interview

Holy Brew: Trappists, Monks and the Catholic Tradition of Brewing Beer

Last month we published an article about a beer tasting event in Grand Rapids hosted by Paulist Seminarian Michael Hennessey. To read the article click here. We talked to Michael about hosting the event:

How did you first become interested in home brewing?

I’ve only started brewing very recently because I never really had a desire to start brewing myself, it always seemed to me to be too much work. It was only after my brother gave me a brewing kit as a gift that I started brewing. I’ve been enjoying the process since then.

When did your hobby cross over into a spiritual activity? Or if it always had been, how do you blend the two together?

It has become spiritual for a few reasons. First, is that it is quiet time away from the busyness of my life, its a very peaceful relaxing process. Also because I’m using some very basic natural ingredients: water, grains, yeast – which are all part of God’s creation. And finally because it’s something that I can share with others in fellowship. Spending time with others, enjoying the beer that I’ve made can be a very spiritual activity.

How did you come up with the idea for the event? What inspired you to plan it?

When I arrived at my summer assignment in Grand Rapids, MI, I was asked to prepare a class to give at the Paulists Information Center there. I had a few ideas, one of which was the beer presentation. I wasn’t an expert at it then, but spend a lot of time in the following weeks researching, sampling, and tasting of course.

What is the focus of your talk at Theology on Tap?

The focus was just on Trappist brewing and the Catholic traditions of brewing beer. Most beer drinkers and Catholics have a vague idea that some monks brew beer, but don’t know much more than that. I think guiding me was answering a simple question: how did it come to be that small monasteries in Belgium make some of the worlds best beer that can be purchased throughout the world next to beers made by some big and influential breweries.

How do you think this event helps the evangelization efforts of the Paulists and the New Evangelization in general?

I think it’s about creating a safe space for people. Many of the people that came to the class would never have considered going to a class at the Catholic Information Center. My hope is that some of the things I said resonated with those who attended and maybe even looked at attending a future event at the CIC. Also, I always want to help people see beyond their often-negative impressions of the church and that God calls everyone to share in his creation – even making and enjoying a good beer.

What are people’s reaction to the event? Positive? Negative?

They seemed very positive. I hoped to appeal to a wide audience, from people who knew little about beer to those who didn’t know much about Catholic and monastic spirituality. It was also a very social event: they sat around tables and enjoyed some good beer – which is just fun.

Do you have any advice for parishes or communities looking to plan a similar event?

There are a few things I would suggest. First, if the event it about beer, keep it about beer. An event like this is not the time to talk about other things since you have people in the room. There was a temptation for me to try to evangelize beyond the topic of beer, but that’s not fair to those that came to the event. This is not a time for bait-and-switch: bring them in for beer then start talking about other topics since you have a crowd. If it is a good, welcoming, informative, and enjoyable event, many will want to come back which will provide other attempts for evangelization. Second, if a parish wants to try a new approach or topic to evangelize, just go for it. It could become a great evangelizing effort.

What, besides the beer, was your favorite part of the event?

I enjoyed the promotional aspect of the event. I spent a lot of time getting the word about the class – going to breweries, bars, reaching out to reporters, using the internet. It was a wonderful opportunity for me to get out of the office and speak with people, showing them the joy I had for the topic, the class, and my faith.

What’s your favorite beer?

This is usually changing, but I can think of two, both by Sierra Nevada. Their Celebration IPA and Narwahl Imperial Stout. And of course, any of the beers I’ve made in house – I love them all.